Gecko migrates north to Kansas

A new lizard has taken up residence in Kansas.

Decades ago the Mediterranean gecko arrived in Florida, spreading through the southeastern United States and into Texas and Oklahoma.

“We knew it got as far as Norman, Oklahoma, in the early 1990s,” said Joe Collins, Kansas University herpetologist. “Well, it’s here.”

And one is now on display at the Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 Harper.

“Ours has been hiding under rocks in its cage since we got him,” said Marty Birrell, the center’s director. “They are nocturnal, so we don’t usually see them in the daytime.”

Late last year there were sightings of a new gecko in Johnson County near 87th Street and Quivira Road, Collins said. In May, someone caught a gecko, contacted Collins and showed it to him. He was sure it was a Mediterranean gecko.

“I saw them and caught them in Texas and Florida, so I knew what it was,” he said.

This Mediterranean gecko, now at the Prairie Park Nature Center, was found in Overland Park by students of Kansas University herpetologist Joe Collins.

Just to be sure, however, Collins took a picture of the lizard and sent it to Walter Meshaka Jr., the state herpetologist for Pennsylvania and a renowned expert on geckos.

Meshaka confirmed it was a Mediterranean gecko.

In late June, some of Collins’ students conducted a search for the geckos at the Johnson County location and found them on and around manufacturing and warehouse buildings. They found dozens of them and caught a few, one of which was given to the nature center.

The geckos were around the buildings because the night security lights were attracting insects. They use their sticky, padded feet to climb the walls.

“They’d go up and hang around the lights and eat dinner,” Collins said. “It’s sort of a smorgasbord for geckos.”

The geckos are generally about 4 inches long and can blend in with their surroundings. Common in southern Europe and northern Africa, they probably arrived in Florida via ships and then migrated or hitched rides aboard vehicles to other states, Collins said.

“I didn’t think they would make it this far north because it’s too cold,” Collins said. “Apparently, the little fellows learned how to live outside during the summer and run inside during the winter and live off whatever spiders and cockroaches they can find in buildings.”

Geckos are friendly creatures and make good pets, Collins said. The one at the nature center is fed crickets.

“They are fairly easy animals to keep, and that’s probably why they naturalize to a lot of different areas,” she said.

The Mediterranean gecko is the third “alien” gecko to migrate to Kansas, Collins said. The other two are the Italian wall lizard and western green lacerta, both found around Topeka. The wall lizard also can be found in Lawrence, he said.